Reading: 1 Peter 4:7-11
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
As we launch our Gifts of God Program, we are invited to examine God’s amazing generosity to us and how we might be able to (in the words of 1 Peter 4:10) to ” se the Gifts of God we have received to serve others”. Over the past 3 months at TUC we have been reviewing our Vision and the mission that God has called us to bring to life – and in this first week of our the Gifts of God program we will be exploring what God’s Vision for our church is and what it means to align ourselves to that mission
Sermon Part #1 Aligning with God’s Mission
Can I add my welcome to everyone to the Launch Sunday of our Gifts of God program. I am really excited to see what God might do as we work through this three week program and all the events and extra bits that goes with it.
The Gifts of God is the second in a series of three programs, a follow up to the very successful “Imagining Hope” program we ran in 2019. These programs are designed to help us to reflect on the generosity and graciousness of God and to consider how we are resourcing God’s mission, especially God’s mission here at TUC.
Imagining Hope made a huge difference and created a lot of forward momentum in our mission. We were humbled by your response. It was a while ago now but let me just remind you of some numbers from Imagining Hope:
- Over 100 people attended the Imagining Hope bible studies
- 166 Sign-ups at the Ministry Fair from 64 individual people
- Regular giving increased by around $40,000 a year ($775 per week) plus donations totalling $7,000.
As I said, the momentum coming out of Imaging Hope has really made a difference – but this momentum was impacted in 2020 when COVID came along. But even with that disruption, we were still able to achieve our Big Audacious Goal of adding another minister to our ministry staff, culminating with Kevin, Inae and family arriving in January this year.
Next week we are going to be releasing the Gifts of God document which celebrates what God has been doing here at TUC. We are going to refer to this in the dessert evening which start in just over a weeks time, but one of the questions that I love in this booklet is the question “What next?”
Yes, Imagining Hope was amazing and made a difference.
Yes, God has been at work here at TUC and we celebrate this and the fruit and blessings that we have seen.
BUT the question that Gifts of God brings to us is “What’s next”
Where is God leading us forward as people and as a congregation. What is the direction that we discerned God is leading us forward in our Vision. What mission ideas or plans do we have to bring God’s vision to life over the next 2 or 3 years here at TUC? What’s next?
We are actually going to explore this question across the next 3 week within the Gifts of God program and especially at the dessert gatherings. And I hope you are excited as I am to go on this journey.
Are you excited?
Ok … I promised you an amazing, mind-blowing illustration and I have got something here that encapsulates what this “Gifts of God” journey is about.
We believe that God is always at work, always at mission, reaching out and sharing love and grace to people. God is always moving. A bit like this metronome. Always moving.
And one of the reasons we do mission planning like we have done here at TUC for the past 3 months is that we prayerfully are trying to discern where God is at work and join in. Our goal as a church in mission is to align our mission with God’s mission.
But here is the problem. If God’s mission is like a metronome and we are like a metronome … then even if we set our beats per minute at the exact same time, we can still be out of sync.
Let’s add a few more items to this.
When it comes to our Vision here at TUC we have stated that we have always and will always have Jesus at the core of our Vision. Our faith and Discipleship in Jesus in the foundation on which everything else is built. So I have this foundation of Jesus here.
But Jesus also promised us a helper – the Holy Spirit – to help us fulfill the mission of God (say represented by this can) who helps us to discern and empowers us to do God’s mission.
And this can might represent the other sources we have to help us align ourselves with God’s vision – such as the Bible, or the wisdom of those who have gone before us, or the leadership here at TUC of our ministry team and church Council. All of these sources can help us align with God’s vision too.
So – if we make sure that our foundation is Jesus and that we are open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, of God’s word, and of the wisdom of our past and previous leaders … what happens?
We find ourselves aligning with God’s mission.
It doesn’t quite make sense, does it?
Metronomes are built to keep perfect time and yet, somehow there is adjustment and alignment?
And this doesn’t just work with one.
We are a larger church with many different people, different experiences, different background, thoughts, theologies, ideas … it is much harder to align with God’s mission … but do that together isn’t it.
What if I was to add another 2 metronomes to this. Would we still find there is alignment?
Firstly – did I amaze you? I can explain the physics after church if you are interested but more importantly …
This is our goal with the Gifts of God program. Not that alignment means that we all have to think the same or act the same or always agree with each other. That’s not going to happen. The alignment is with our heart and God’s mission. God has set a direction for our church, God is stirring 5 key areas in which it is important for us to move forward in. And we are invited to allow our heart to align with this Vision and to offer ourselves and our gifts to bring this mission to life.
Let’s start by exploring a great passage on “the gifts of God” as I invite Nigel to come and read us our Bible Reading from the letter of 1 Peter.
Sermon Part #2 A Heart for Giving
Each of you should use the Gifts of God you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s Grace in its various forms.
This is the key verse of the Gifts of God program – encouraging us as Christians to use the blessings or gifts we have received to help others to give back to God as an act of discipleship or a sign of our gratitude. But I feel even saying this that I am preaching to the choir. I don’t need to convince anyone on that, do I?
So instead, I want to explore what is means to be generous, what does it mean to have a giving heart?
When we went to the training day on how to run these programs, we were shown this video. Let me show you it you and I want you to think about what you like and what you don’t like…
God’s Pies Video
Did you like that? I thought it was a bit cheesy the idea that God is sitting there waiting for his piece of cake … as if God needs us to share our resources with him.
But what I did like about this video is the idea of thinking about our giving to God, our resourcing of God’s ministry and mission, alongside the decision for other major financial investments in life.
I think that for many people it does work like the video. We have our income and then we pay the mortgage, the cars, the credit cards, the hobbies, ourselves and if there is anything left over at the end of the week, we put it in the plate at church.
But the bible actually says that our generosity to God and others should be out of what is left over but be alongside our other major financial decisions. Kevin last week preached on Malachi. One of Malachi’s main points is that we shouldn’t bring God the leftovers but rather offer God the first fruit.
As I just said, we run programs such as “Imagining Hope” and “Gifts of God” here at TUC because we think it is a good spiritual practice to regularly, once a year, review our giving to God and the church. This is not a guilt thing – saying that you have to give more and more – but rather encouraging a culture of regularly reviewing our giving to God – just in the same way as we review our financial commitment to our mortgage, cars, etc. That is one of the advantages of direct giving or E-giving to the church, because it encourages to think about your giving upfront and not just give from what is left over.
But let’s focus back on our scripture for today because I think that it gives some helpful insights into generosity and giving.
1 Peter 4:10 acknowledges that we have all received gifts from God. At the Gifts of God gatherings coming up not this week but the week after, we are going to explore what this phrase means … what are the gifts that God has given us and what are we encouraged to do with these gifts that God has given us.
Peter is clear … God has given us gifts so that we can serve others. Why? Because it is in serving others that we are faithful stewards of God’s Grace. Somehow, using the gifts we have received to serve others is an authentic expression of God’s Grace.
An interesting fact – the word “Gift” and the word “Grace” actually come from the same root word. By sharing our gifts we are reflecting the Grace of God.
What does this mean in practice? Just look at the other verses in our bible passage:
- v7- Sharing the gift of Prayer is a way to show Grace
- v8 – Loving each other deeply is reflecting Grace
- v9 – Offer the gift of hospitality to one another (and if you do it without grumbling), then you are a good steward of God’s Grace
These are good practical examples. But our reading also encouraged us not to show a little grace, but to be generous when we share out gifts, to be extravagant with Grace. If you are sharing with your words … speak as one who speaks the very words of God. If you are serving, then give it all you’ve got with the strength God provides. When we are extravagant with our giving, with our serving, when we are reflecting God’s grace … then God will get the glory.
Let’s go a step further and get a little personal. I was really challenged when I was doing the research for this sermon and came across and article that challenged us to consider whether we have a generous heart.
I think I am a generous person … actually I would say that at times I can be extravagant in my giving and serving. But this article asked some simple questions to scratch a little deeper and consider whether I had a generous heart or a joyful giver. Here are some of the questions:
- Do we offer to help our partner or spouse, or try to stay busy so we don’t need to?
- Do we gladly let someone else in the family use the bathroom/shower/sink first when we both wanted it at the same time?
- Do we willingly give up the last piece of the dessert?
- Do we give up watching our show for someone else to watch what they want? Do we try to get the best seat in the room to watch TV?
- Do we clean up after others in the break room at work, offer to do dishes at home, or help clean up or put away things after an event at church?
- Do we try to say yes if we are needed to help someone move or give someone a ride to the doctor?
- Do we look for opportunities to have people over for a meal?
- Do we ask questions and listen attentively in conversation, or do we impatiently wait for a pause so we can make our comment or tell our story?
It is challenging, isn’t it? I found it really confronting to explore my heart when it comes to giving and serving. It is not just about how others perceive my giving and serving – it is actually about whether or not I have cultured a spirit of giving and generosity in my life. As we move into this “Gifts of God” week when we reflect a lot about giving and serving … it is my prayer that we all come to understand what it personally means for us to use the Gifts of God we have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s Grace in all its various forms. Amen.